Dating In The Age Of Narcissism: How To *Actually* Find a Meaningful Relationship

Share This Post

Share on facebook
Share on linkedin
Share on twitter
Share on email
Share on facebook

Has social media really led to the rise in narcissism?

Love In The Age Of Narcissism: How To *Actually* Find a Meaningful Relationship

Learn about what narcissism looks like in practice in an age of self-interest, and how to identify red and green flags as you begin or continue your relationship journey.

Narcissism In The Digital Age

Has social media really led to the rise in narcissism?

Across the board, scholars agree that we’re deep in the trenches of an epidemic. Narcissistic personality traits have gone viral as reports disclosed by American academics Jean Twenge and Josh Foster prove year after year. Their report on the rise of narcissistic tendencies noted a dramatic increase in the amount of women scoring higher on the scale than in previous decades. Narcissistic personality traits have gone viral, and experts argue that it’s been growing since the 80s, hitting American life harder than obesity. Typically prevalent in males, women are steadily catching up each year.

Scholars and historians are quick to attribute the self-centeredness of the younger generations to the pressures of social media, the endless variety of choice, and the at-your-fingertips services that our constantly-connected world affords us.

In Christopher Lasch’s 1978 best-selling book “The Culture of Narcissism,” he writes:

Today Americans are overcome not by the sense of endless possibility but by the banality of the social order they have erected against it. …they feel themselves overwhelmed by an annihilating boredom, like animals whose instincts have withered in captivity. 

There’s a natural human tendency to think things are getting worse or at least not better, and you have to fight against that, ” says Twenge. She reminds us that what we are seeing is not necessarily a rise in the disorder but in its traits. There’s also been major pushback against Lasch, with critics claiming that the book was written without sensitivity to the shift in gender roles. Imogen Tyler criticized Lasch for attributing narcissism to stereotyped figures (sexually liberated women, feminists, career women, African-Americans, gays and lesbians, etc.) in order to promote white heterosexual masculine and patriarchal forms of sociality.

“Full-bodied narcissistic personality disorder remains a fairly unusual diagnosis,” Pat MacDonald, author of the paper Narcissism in the Modern World, tells the Guardian, “Much of our distress comes from a sense of disconnection. We have a narcissistic society where self-promotion and individuality seem to be essential, yet in our hearts that’s not what we want. We want to be part of a community, we want to be supported when we’re struggling, we want a sense of belonging. Being extraordinary is not a necessary component to being loved.”

Whether the saying “it gets worse before it gets better” rings true here or not, modern dating is a hard landscape to navigate regardless of sexual orientation or identity. With the ability to delete people from our lives with a single click or ruin a reputation with a mass post- it’s more important than ever to nip toxic relationships in the bud before your fairy tale turns into a nightmare.

Finding Meaningful Relationships

If we’re going to end this age of abuse once and for all, we’re going to have to get real for a second. Could it be that we really love our narcissist’s higher-than-life perch above the common folk? 

Self-love is the highest form of modern currency, and our narcissist’s confidence strikes us as… charming. We can’t admit that – deep down – want to be just like them. Confident and sure of who we are. And truthfully, who doesn’t want that? Sadly, it’s a trap. 

What we mistake for charm is actually a deeply complicated pathology

True narcissism is anything but confident. It’s predatory. Twenge and Campbell want us to drill down on the notion that the narcissist is always wearing a mask. They are not effervescent, It is not about high self-esteem at all – in fact the narcissist is deeply insecure (and you can NOT fix it). Think about that the next time you struggle to delete their texts. The narcissist’s game is one of smoke and mirrors fueled by an insatiable drive to appear far better than anyone else. Vampiric by nature, your self-worth is the narcissist’s main supply. So before that first, second, or third date: ask yourself, “Do I have enough self-esteem for two?” You’ll surely need to bring enough to share. Instead of seeking out a charmer, seek out warmth. Decide if this person feels like a rollercoaster or if they feel like a warm place to come home to. 

Boundaries are Your BFF.

Boundaries are a major buzzword these days, but what function do they really have, and how can we create them? Dr. Ramani discusses what she calls ‘Easy Boundaries’ on her Youtube channel. Boundaries around personal space, time, and privacy may feel uncomfortable to set, but they are absolutely essential to your relationship’s health. 

If you’ve been clear with your boundaries and find yourself dating someone who’s always pushing your limits, it’s a red flag. 

Red Flags in Relationships

“What are you up to?”

“Who are you with?”

It may feel sweet at the beginning but our new beau’s constant questioning can quickly become controlling. We write it off as jitters or even find it flattering. Yet over time, their anger grows. Soon, we’re spending all our time with them and no time with our family or friends. Your narcissist’s insecurity and ego are protected when they know they have full possession of your time and attention. If your partner or date likes to keep tabs on you at all times, make sure you voice your concerns and boundaries up front. If they continue to pressure you for answers, it’s time to reconsider the relationship.

According to Dr. Ramani, narcissistic traits tend to become evident in the early phases of romantic relationships, yet we tend to ignore the red flags. Many of us don’t fully understand narcissism and therefore don’t understand the dangers that lie ahead. We gaslight ourselves with terms such as, “maybe I’m being too sensitive”. It’s important to listen to your gut instincts and assess your safety if you’re feeling devalued or confused by their inconsistent behavior. The sooner you remove yourself as a narcissist’s supply, the easier it will be recover from their abuse.

The Great Relationship Reset

Can Narcissism be reversed? All signs point to no. “Traditionally, it is very difficult to reverse narcissistic personality disorder. It would take a long time and a lot of work”, Pat MacDonald, author of the paper Narcissism in the Modern World tells the Guardian.

A narcissist, however, is classically trained to tell you exactly what you want to hear. “Narcissists love to press the Great Relationship Reset Button.” says Zari Ballard, an expert on narcissistic relationships, “The narcissist, in order to succeed with the Great Relationship Reset, will tell whatever lie is necessary to receive a quick reprieve.”

This is what Dr. Ramani refers to as love bombing in her glossary of narcissistic relationships. “Love bombing is cyclical”, says Dr. Ramani. When your narcissist senses that you’re slipping away, they’ll do whatever it takes to keep you under their spell. It may seem like they are genuinely acting loving towards you, but in reality they are glossing over the meaningful conversations with expensive gifts, attention, and the words you’ve likely wanted to hear since their attention stopped in the first place. “This can go on for years,” continues Dr. Ramani. She also warns that you may get addicted to the cycle, even when the initial six week love bomb will becomes a few days of attention or a gift of flowers. 

“You’ve been living on crumbs for so long that even a few flowers and a mediocre dinner out and a handful few gifts is enough to keep you in this toxic game.”
Dr. Ramani 

Unhooking From a Narcissist

It’s just as important to spot toxic relationship patterns even if we are “just having fun”. Many relationships don’t last forever, and rollercoaster flings can feel exciting. Yet, as you reach a certain level of attachment, it’s vital to consider the difference between two people falling in love and one party pulling the strings. If your relationship doesn’t feel right, ask yourself: Am I committed to being in this relationship, and is this relationship worth it? Have I been avoiding any signals from my intuition or making excuses for the other person? 

Don’t Get in the Mud

Narcissists are incapable of reflecting on feedback from others due to a faulty inner mirror. You’ll start to notice that conversations will increasingly become one sided and deflective at best, and rageful at worst if you call them out on the carpet. It’s best to consciously unhook yourself from a narcissist if you’re not able to leave. “Limit your time and contact with them and keep conversations light” says Dr. Ramani in an interview with Women of Impact. We often feel like if we leave, our narcissist will change for the next person and we missed out. 

It Was So Magical

If a narcissist discards you, it can be excruciating. One moment they give you their full attention and the next- they’re gone. In this case, it’s important to frame your situation as a close call. Those who have been caught in the narcissist trap know exactly how close that call can be, they fully understand the dark alternative that will have you counting your lucky stars.  “These people look shredded when its over” says Dr. Ramani. “People who are leaving narcissistic relationships are terrified.”

I’ll Be Watching You

Narcissists can’t handle being abandoned, so if they don’t have someone new to give them attention, expect a full blown war. If you’ve stuck to your guns past the lovebombing phase and made it out of the relation, you’re not out of the clear just yet. Build up your support system and disconnect emotionally as much as you can. Seek out a professional coach or therapist to help you through the transition.

While many of our cultural narcissistic traits will phase out in adulthood, true narcissists have an insatiable need for praise and attention that will never stop. If you’ve fallen for a narcissist, you’re not alone and there is light at the end of tunnel.

To learn more about how to spot a narcissist or consciously uncouple once you’re in a relationship with someone with the disorder, join the Real Love Ready Summit to hear Dr. Ramani’s keynote and take her seven day course.

Angie Sunshine is a Curriculum Designer at hiitide. She enjoys adding behind-the-scenes elements to her book clubs, including interviews with authors and readers alike. You can view an example of this in her book club, Built to Serve with Evan Carmichael. When Angie isn't writing for hiitide, she is co-organizing immersive art and music festivals in Amsterdam.
Angie Sunshine
hiitide Curriculum Designer

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Get updates and learn from the best

More To Explore


Aaron Rodgers Loves Books Too

As the NFL’s Most Valuable Player from the 2020 season, SuperBowl champion and recent guest host of Jeopardy, Aaron has started to communicate a message on sharpening your mind, building soft skills and expanding your practices to elevate your game.


An Entrepreneurs Recipe For Success Is Simply Survival

Author Nir Eyal quite literally wrote the book on confronting distractions. Complete a short, and effective exercise from Nir that will help you reflect on past goals and distractions to help prevent yourself from repeating the past.